Identity Theft Survival Guide for Students

10 Things You Must Know to Protect Your Identity in College

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College life can be a blast these days — especially if you're an identity thief. If you're a student, it can mean hard work, long hours and years repaying big student loans. It can also be the perfect place to become a victim of identity theft.

You know that ID thieves are out there waiting, so don't make things easy for them. Don't let a thief take away what you've worked so hard to earn. How do you protect yourself from becoming an identity theft victim? For starters, you can determine your ID Theft IQ by taking our Identity Theft Risk Quiz.

Identity Theft Risk Quiz

  1. Do you keep personal financial information in your dorm or bedroom?

    Dorms can give open access to numerous students, some trustworthy friends — and plenty of people whom you don't know at all. Leaving any sort of personal financial information — like your Social Security number, credit card statements or personal mail — lying around is a crime waiting to happen. Be sure to keep the amount of personal financial information in your dorm or bedroom to a minimum.

  2. Do you have more than one credit card?

    Resisting signing up for many credit cards is hard, especially when you're a student — with bills to pay and little, if any, money coming in. Still, it's something that's necessary. Every card you sign up for means that more of your personal information is out there for the taking. It also means that you'll have more online accounts and passwords to protect, and it increases the chances of Internet identity theft. Is having an extra credit card "just to have it" really worth the risk?

  3. Do you share your Social Security number with others?

    Always be careful about sharing your Social Security number. When applying for part-time jobs especially, be very cautious with your personal information. There are plenty of unscrupulous employers more interested in collecting Social Security numbers than in hiring new employees.

  4. Do you use security passwords to protect your laptop?

    The personal information on a laptop can mean more to an identity thief than the laptop itself. Always password-protect your laptop, check it regularly for viruses, and make sure your password is secure.

  5. Do you let everyone use your personal computer?

    If the answer is "yes," you better start restricting access to your computer. This will help prevent other students from downloading malicious software that might enable the theft of your personal information. And if someone else uses your computer to do something they're not supposed to — something illegal, let's say — guess who'll get the blame?

  6. Do you share your passwords?

    Even if it's convenient, even if you trust your friends and fellow students, sharing important passwords is NEVER recommended. A friend — no matter how loyal — will not take steps to protect a personal password as well as you can.

  7. Do you visit unsafe sites?

    Remember to be careful where you surf the Web. Unprotected computers can be vulnerable to drive-by spyware and pharming. Infected websites may exploit vulnerabilities on your computer that you forgot about... or just don't know about.

  8. Are you cautious with the things you download from the Internet?

    Spyware and keyloggers that can steal your personal information are easily concealed in everything from video clips and music files to screensavers — even in online greeting cards and jokes. If the download doesn't come from a source you know to be reputable, don't use it.

  9. Do you share Internet files with friends or classmates?

    If you swap or exchange files with other students, use extreme caution. Whether it's music, videos or course work, you don't know where certain files have been. Protect your personal computer at all costs.

  10. Do you believe in things that look too good to be true?

    Something that looks "too good to be true" more likely is not. Beware of scams. Colleges can be a hotbed for scammers offering everything from get-rich-quick schemes to pirated software, music and videos. Don't compromise your computer or your finances by being careless.

What is Your identity Theft Risk Level?

All the questions above represent ways in which your identity can be stolen — at any moment. So the correct answer for all of the questions should have been "no." Let's see how you did:

Grade Explanation
A 10 out of 10

Congratulations!: You're Identity Theft immune! The risk of having your identity and personal information stolen represents the absolute minimum, as compared to the average college student.

B 7-9 out of 10

Good job! You're being fairly careful with your personal information. Caution and vigilance go a long way towards protecting you from most kinds of identity frauds and scams. The more you focus on protecting the information and risks that are under your control, the less likely you are to fall victim to one of these scams.

C 4-6 out of 10

Subtle warning: You're not being careful enough with your personal information. You may need to take a closer look at your habits and behavior and try to identify where you might be making yourself more vulnerable to identity theft risk. Identity theft is usually a crime of opportunity, and if you're not holding up any red flags to discourage resourceful thieves, chances are you'll be a target.

D 1-3 out of 10

Watch out: You may be at high risk of having someone steal your personal information. Seems like you're getting some of the security awareness messages, but missing most of the important ones. Maybe you should take some time to review the questions, especially the ones you answered "yes" to. Look over the quiz again, and think about what it's going to take to change as many of those "yes's" to "no's."

F 0 out of 10

Big trouble: It's still a miracle that you own your identity and money! You are definitely making things far too easy for identity thieves! In fact, it seems like you practice most of the bad security habits thieves look for and exploit. When you share your personal information, passwords and even your computer, and when you take big risks on surfing the Web and don't screen downloadable material carefully, you're essentially asking to become an identity theft victim. Maybe it's time to change even just a little of that behavior so you don't end up the subject of another ID theft headline.

They say that higher education is something no one can ever take away from you. Just make sure that the computer that helped you earn that higher education doesn't give out information that you might never see again. Take steps to protect yourself and your personal information, and you can celebrate your educational milestones with fewer worries and with your identity still intact.

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